‘Someone had to do it:’ First female firefighter in Erie County proved herself in a ‘mans world’

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BLASDELL, N.Y. (WIVB) — A current member of the Blasdell Volunteer Fire Department made history when she was hired onto the job about 45 years ago. Michele Fehmer was the first ever female firefighter in Erie County.

Fehmer’s husband was a firefighter for the department, and she would help him throw parties and cook, but she realized she was capable of so much more. She handed in an application to be a firefighter in 1974.

“Someone had to do it first… and I was chosen, I guess,” Fehmer said.

Fehmer was 24 years old when she began as a rookie firefighter in Blasdell. In the back of the fire hall today, there’s an engine that she used to ride with the guys on, to emergencies.

“I used to answer every call I could,” she said. “I used to walk down here because I didn’t have a vehicle.”

When Michele first started, she said men were not happy she was around.

“They didn’t want any women in their mans world.”

Fehmer even remembers getting kicked off the demolition derby field at the Erie County Fair because she was a woman.

“He told me I had to get off the field, so I had to go sit in the truck.”

But Fehmer said she knew she belonged, and knew she was pulling her own weight. And to this day, she’s still making her mark. At 69 years old, she’s the lieutenant of the fire police. She’ll go help with traffic control at accidents, and on other calls the department needs her for, but she doesn’t ride in the rigs anymore. She did however hop in one for News 4 on Tuesday, to re-create a picture that was taken of her and featured in the paper in 1974. The humble trailblazer said she never even realized she was the first female firefighter in the county until that article appeared in the news.

“I’m going, ‘Why are they putting that in the paper?’ I guess it was a big deal to everyone else.”

To this day, she still isn’t sure why people are making such a big deal out of her story.

“I get embarrassed,” she said.

And after responding to thousands of calls (more than enough to prove herself), Fehmer has a message to every young girl out there wanting to make a difference.

“Do it,” she said. “You can do whatever you want.”

If you know of a Woman Leading WNY, sending Kelsey Anderson an email at kelsey.anderson@wivb.com.

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